So this was it. I had 3 more days left before I had to make my way back to Colombo and begin my 36 hour journey back to U.S. soil. I had two choices…I can head down to the beach and just marinate for a few days, or I can continue the cerebral stimulation and head to Kandy, “The Cultural Capital of Sri Lanka.” Against most of humanity’s better judgement, I chose the latter.
To get there from Nuwara Eliya, I had to bid farewell to the gorgeous valley of the tea, tuk-tuk down to the Nanuoya train station 8 miles down the road, and find myself a seat. This turned out to be one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve ever been on. We started and ended by slowly snaking our way through 90 miles of the same lush green tea-infused hillsides we drove up to get here, only this time, we were away from the people and the commerce-driven hustle bustle of the road that led up and down the mountain. This time, we hugged the mountainsides as we periodically rolled through tiny track-side villages, many of which consisted of nothing more than 5 or 6 small structures and a store. This is a train ride I think should be added to just about everyone’s bucket list. It was that stunning.
Kandy is quite significant on so many levels to the history and present of Sri Lanka. It served as the last capital of the ancient kings era in Sri Lanka, and, among some of Buddhism and Hindu’s holiest sites, houses the Temple of the Tooth, an enormous and religiously significant temple in the Buddhist faith. Additionally, Kandy, the second largest city in Sri Lanka behind Colombo, serves as a major and important commerce route linking all quadrants of the country, not surprisingly, playing a major role and hub for operations during the 3- year civil war I spoke of in the first few parts of this series. Since then, they’ve put a major focus on tolerance and integration amongst populations, from the Buddhist population to the Hindu population to the Muslim population, Singhalese and Tamil alike, with wonderfully vibrant charming results. While the population of Kandy is listed at about 120,000, it truly feels like a much smaller, quaint town, much of which has to do with its topography - pockets hidden and tucked into hillsides and valleys.
I rolled into town in the early afternoon, got a hold of my host in Kandy, another Airbnb reservation, and another one that I got super lucky with. I landed a spot in Alex Home Stay. The reviews were off the charts, so I wasn’t sure I’d get in, but I was fortunate enough to catch him during an open window. Not only did I have my own entire apartment in the hills just above the town, but Alex, who lived upstairs, was also a certified tour guide in Sri Lanka, so he was able to put together an itinerary for me based on what I wanted to see and do. I got in early enough to have a full afternoon and night in which he led me right. I took a tuk-tuk downtown, had my driver find me a Muslim jewerly shop (apparently that’s where you’ll get the best currency exchange rates), and then drop me off right in front of The Temple of the Tooth. The Temple of the Tooth, a World Heritage Site, and one of the holiest places in the world for Buddhists, is perhaps best known for housing one of Buddhas teeth in a shrine in the center of the temple.
I walked onto the opulent grounds and as I crossed the bridge over the moat and into the compound, immediately felt a calmness come across me. I was instinctually possessed to be quiet, aware, and introspective, a feeling that was only magnified as I walked into the temple and up the stairs that led to the shrine. It was filled to the brim Buddhist devotees sitting on the ground throughout the room, all chanting in unison, led by a monk dressed in traditional orange robes at the center of the room facing the shrine, which was shroud with lotus flowers covering the color spectrum.
I was here.
This was happening.
I was part of it.
So for a few moments I could call my own, I sat down and just listened. It wasn’t long before I found myself entranced and almost hypnotically chanting along with them. I won’t lie, there was something there, an energy, something I wasn’t quite used to, and I know this might sound contradictory, but I don’t know how else to put it...I freaked out a bit at how calming it was. This struck me enough to get a sudden twinge of anxiety, leading me outside of the room. It was a bizarre feeling, one I still can’t describe, but I’m fairly certain it had a lot to do with the inexplainable discomfort of facing yourself upon finding yourself suddenly vulnerable in a completely unfamiliar environment. I wasn’t ready for that. And looking back, I now wish I had stayed and worked my way through those feelings to see what was on the other side.
In any case, I spent the next hour or so meandering through the rest of the grounds, which included everything from the Sri Dalada Museum, which explained the story of the tooth relic through pictures and ancient scrolls, imagery, and statues. Apparently he who holds the sacred tooth relic, which was fought over for centuries, holds the governance of the land. I also got to check out the outlying gardens which played host to a glass room full of prayer candles, in which an endless stream of devotees walked in, lit their candles, made their offerings, and quietly prayed before making their way out.
After this, I found myself walking on the other side of the temple, where I heard dancing and music and drums, and as I followed them, found an old Red Cross building that was hosting a Kandyan dance, essentially a traditional Sri Lankan dance recital. This I could not pass up. It had just started so I bought myself a ticket and walked in to a packed house and balcony watching this display, not unlike what you’d see at a traditional Hawaiian luau, but with the story, dance, costume, and garb illustrating Sri Lankan history. The recital is performed to percussion only, and through costumes depicting different animals, tells the story of shamans that came to cure the king of a mysterious illness caused by black magic of the king’s first wife.
After this 90 minute show, I figured it was time to call it a night as I had a long day ahead of me, for tomorrow, I’d be heading deeper into the hills to see something I could not leave Sri Lanka without seeing…elephants!
To see those magnificent beasts, click here for 3 Weeks In Sri Lanka - Part 7 : The Solo Journey Continues - The Elephants & The Elements, & The Shoulder of Buddha. Or you can always sign up on the right with your email address and I'll send each new post directly to your inbox.
For now, below is a gallery from that first day in Kandy. Click on any one of them and it'll open a lightbox slideshow.
If you missed the beginnings of this journey, be sure to start off with 3 Weeks In Sri Lanka – Part 1 : The Most Meaningful Work I’ve Ever Done.
All images and videos for this series of blog posts were shot with a Samsung NX1.
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